A film based on a book keyed on the rape and murder of a teenage girl could easily be exploitative and shallow, or worse it could waste a chance to probe into what is most meaningful in our lives and even beyond. Peter Jackson's film adaptation of Alice Sebold's best selling book The Lovely Bones, removes the literary rape scene entirely and grapples with both the depiction of an afterlife and the gut-wrenching emotions of an adult which loses a child to a killer. Buzzine's Izumi Hasegawa sat down with the film's all-star cast (Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg) and director Peter Jackson in Hollywood, CA to talk about morality, spirituality and the suspension of disbelief...
Izumi Hasegawa: Why was the choice made to give Mr. Harvey those peculiar contact lenses?
Stanley Tucci: I didn’t think that my eyes were the eyes that should be the eyes of this guy. And also, he needed to be more of, I suppose, quintessentially American looking, so the skin tone was changed and hair was added. The eyes seemed to be appropriate for him. If you look at the scene with Mike Imperioli, when he comes in and starts asking questions, what I’m hoping is that the eyes there looked sort of normal. In certain close-ups, like the reflection in the mirror when he’s sitting in his car, I think then the eyes take on a different quality because of the way it’s lit and because of my horrible thoughts behind them.
Peter Jackson: I’ve done a lot of movies with contact lenses in actors’ eyes. To me, they change the color of your eye. If there’s something that’s going on with the character’s eyes, it’s because of the performance. As a filmmaker, I like shooting extreme close-ups of some characters occasionally, because that is a technique you use to really get inside somebody’s head. Stanley was playing a very dangerous and frightening character, so getting close to his eyes were a way of increasing the menace, because Stanley’s performance was giving that to us.
IH: Did you jazz Susan [Sarandon] up to give the audience a chance to breathe?
Susan Sarandon: Did you jazz me up?
PJ: If we did, you probably didn’t know about it. We slipped things into your martini when you weren’t looking.
SS: That’s just a great period, and the designers and everything — it was very collaborative. It was such a really fertile time in terms of style and everything else.
Rachel Weisz: You just were so sexy. Come on.
SS: Oh, thanks. I remember those eyelashes even when I was really young and too many eyelashes on. The fun part was working out how do you clean your house with a drink and a cigarette? That was a new area for me.
IH: What were your reasons for choosing to eliminate the rape part of Susie's murder from the book?
PJ: There are artistic reasons and there are moral reasons and there are practical reasons. There are a variety of reasons that I should talk about. The film is about a teenager and her experiences of what happens. She’s murdered, she goes into an afterlife experience — her in-between — and we wanted to make a film that teenagers could watch. Fran and I have a daughter who’s very similar to Susie’s age. We wanted Katie to be able to see this film. There’s a lot of positive aspects of this film, and it’s not something I think I wanted to shield our daughter from, so it was important for us to not go into an R-rated territory at all. Also, I never regarded the movie as being a film about a murder.
Yet, if we shot any aspect of that particular sequence in any way, it would stigmatize the film. Movies are such a powerful medium, with the music, effects, acting, performance, editing, lighting, and camerawork, that to show a 14-year-old girl being murdered in any way, even regards no matter how briefly, it would completely swing the balance of the movie and it would frankly make it a film that I wouldn’t want to watch. I would have no interest in seeing that depicted on film, and I would not want to see the film. Every movie I make is a film I want to see. It’s very important. I make movies that I know I would enjoy seeing in the cinema, and that would not be one of them.
So the movie we did make, we wanted it to become something that was almost like a crime mystery of what happens when you’re in this world of the subconscious, the world of the afterlife, and Susie has to deal with the mystery of what happened to her. There’s a positive aspect to it in the sense that she’s immortal and saying there is no such thing as death. All of those aspects and themes were what interested us — not the murder. I’ve shot some pretty extreme things in my time with Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles and Brain Dead. There’s a certain style and a sense of humor that I believe you can do to get away with that, but to do anything that depicted violence toward especially a young person in a way that was serious, to me, I would have no interest in filming it at all. It would be repulsive. So there was a variety of reasons, but we felt very determined, from the beginning, that the film should be PG-13 because it was important.
ST: Before we shot, obviously, when we were just introducing each other and getting to know each other, we talked about that and how far it should go. There were pieces in the script originally that were a little more graphic, but I think, as an exploration of where this movie could go, what you really needed…and in our conversations, we all agreed, I said, “We don’t need to see this.” And Pete said, “No no, we don’t. There’s no way we’re going to see it. We don’t need to see it.” I did an interview this morning and somebody said a lot of people were upset that they don’t see the rape and the killing. I find that amazing.
PJ: How much murder and killing do you need to see to be satisfied? How much to make somebody happy?
ST: I don’t know. Obviously a lot. [Laughs] I think anyone who’s disappointed in that regard should just go on the Internet where they’ll find a lot of stuff like that. It’s so much more interesting, what Peter did, to leave it to the audience’s imagination. Our imaginations of rape and murder are much greater than anyone could ever put on film.
SS: Also, she’s the narrator and she dissociates at that point, so to show what happens, you’d lose that whole element of her confusion and her displacement.
PJ: Exactly. One of the things we did which was different from the novel is we have her fleeing from her murder, and we really liked that aspect of the way that bit of the story was told in the sense that, at the point, her spirit becomes disconnected from her body and she’s running. She’s running across that field, she’s running into the street, she’s running home, and Susie doesn’t know what’s happening to her. She’s literally confused, and now she finds herself in the in-between, which is essentially the world of dream, of subconscious, of this confused state, and she has to start to put the pieces together like a mystery. So that really dictated very strongly, that even for all of the other reasons, seeing any form of murder was not something we wanted to do because of the way we restructured the story. She herself is confused and has to put the pieces of the puzzle together as the story goes on.
IH: Rachel, what was it like for you as a mother to deal with this subject matter? And Mark, were there any emotional ramifications once the filming was done?
RW: As an actor, you have to imagine all sorts of things. I imagined I was a young woman in the 1970s. I imagined I was an American… Neither of those are bad things. You imagine beautiful things, you imagine ugly things — that’s my job, and I don’t think, in that way, something is too dark or problematic to go to. I don’t know why, but I just don’t think that way. I immerse myself in something, but I’ve learned to come out of it. I’m a mother in real life, so I can’t go home to my kids in a state of despair and tears. It’s a skill you learn, like one might learn to juggle, but you learn to turn things on and off, and I sort of have to do that.
Bad things happen in stories. Oedipus kills his dad and has sex with his mom; bad stuff has happened in stories since the beginning of time, and I don’t think it’s a new thing to be a storyteller and be in a story where there are bad things. There are very beautiful, uplifting things about this film and the book, and I knew that going into it, so I didn’t have a hesitation of the sort that you mean. I guess the uplifting theme of the book and the film, which is to me that life is a treasure and precious and a miracle…the thing that made me feel as if I wanted to go hug my son tighter when I got home. It’s hard to remember that life is a miracle. We’re just living it and we forget that, so it gave me a kind of positive feeling rather than a depressed one.
Mark Wahlberg: I’m still learning to juggle. I would go home and just grab my daughter and hold her, and I would start crying and she’d be like, “Daddy what’s wrong with you?” because she just wanted to play. I would try to talk to her about taking care of herself and not talking to strangers – she was three at the time. But thankfully, I had another movie to go into that was completely different, so I was able to kind of shake it after a while.
IH: What did you discover about people’s need to believe in an afterlife?
PJ: It’s an interesting question, and it’s one that I think everyone, obviously, has their own points of view about it. I’m not sure if I’m answering your question correctly, but certainly what we felt very strongly with the movie is that we didn’t want to make a film that cast judgment on people’s religious beliefs, because that wasn’t at all the motivation for making the movie. We didn’t create the in-between being Susie’s subconscious for that reason. To us, it wasn’t at all about her existing in a world that had some form of religious control around it. It was literally she is disconnected from her body for that period and she is in this weird hallucinogenic state.
What we do in the movie is, obviously, if you’ve seen it, you realize there’s that scene in the end with the field when Harvey’s victims come down to meet Susie. There’s a golden light there which is supposed to be wide heaven, as Susie calls it and as Alice Sebold called it. That’s a golden light which I shot in a deliberately clichéd, recognizable way that people get the idea that heaven is there. That is indeed the goal of which Susie has — to get out of this weird, trapped place that she is in and to actually move on. That golden light represents where she and everyone else moves on to. The idea is that you can put whatever you choose into that golden light, and if you are religious, then obviously, that’s what you put in there. If you’re not religious, you can imagine something else. If you don’t believe there’s anything there at all, then probably it’s not the movie you should go see.
RW: It’s a fairy tale. You can look at it even if you don’t believe in anything, right?
PJ: It’s suspension of disbelief.
RW: It’s a story. It’s make-believe.
PJ: All religious things to one side, which is a completely different topic, I do think there is some energy that we have inside us. I have experienced a couple of people that have been very close to me dying, and I’ve been there and I’ve held their hands. There is a feeling that, when somebody passes on, they leave. There’s a sense of departure that’s very, very strong, and it’s so strong that it has made me believe in the fact that there is a form of energy inside us that continues to survive after death. Science, physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed, so it has to go somewhere. It doesn’t evaporate.
'The Lovely Bones' is in theaters now from Paramount Pictures.